Thirty-five political prisoners still in jail despite amnesty for 'other offences': Yangon

Family members and relatives wait outside Insein Prison for the release of prisoners

YANGON - Thirty-five political prisoners, including members of armed ethnic groups, remain in prison despite the presidential amnesty because of charges for other offences, according to a member of the Remaining Political Prisoners Scrutiny Committee (RPPSC).

President Thein Sein granted a general amnesty on Monday for political prisoners, including those under court trials and official investigations for political offences.

"According to the list of the political prisoners we have made, they were imprisoned by the previous military junta mostly for political offences as well as other offences. The 35 prisoners on our list are still behind bars for other offences although they have been granted the latest presidential pardon related to political offences. So they won't be released today," Ye Aung, a member of RPPSC, said on Tuesday.

Ye Aung added that the 35 remained in prison because of their political activities, although they have been charged with other offences, but are expected to be released soon as an agreement has been reached.

"These 35 prisoners are related to ethnic organisations and armed groups. They include the Karen National Union, All Burma Students Democratic Front, Kachin Independence Army and Shan rebels," he said. "The government granted amnesty as it had promised that there would be no political prisoners by the end of the year. So, we hope that as we have already discussed, the remaining prisoners will be released. I want to urge the government to keep its promise."

On Tuesday, five political prisoners from Yangon, Mawlamyine, and Taunggyi prisons and about 120 more detainees under court trials were released under the presidential amnesty. The list of those released from other regions across the country is still being compiled, reports say.

"I was charged under Section 505 (b). I appreciate the president for his amnesty. But there are many comrades still in prison.

Although all the political prisoners were said to be released, some members from armed groups are still in prison for other offences," said Tin Htut Paing, one of the protestors who burned the Chinese flag on the first anniversary of police crackdown on Letpadaungtaung copper mine protest camps.

"This being the case, the presidential pardon focuses on those political prisoners serving short terms. I think this is rather mistaken. I want to demand that those who have been sentenced to long prison terms for their fight for democracy under various charges be released."

One man who was released after being imprisoned for walking from Yangon to Laiza in Kachin State in a protest for peace agreed that the remaining 35 prisoners were expected to be released as soon as possible.

"I was imprisoned to serve an eight-month term under Section 18. The amnesty is a result of our efforts. In a way, this is the promise by the president. I also see it as a way to address weaknesses in the judicial sector," said Yan Naing Tun.

Aung Min Naing, who was released from Insein Prison, praised the former political prisoners and media for their participation in the effort to release the prisoners, saying he would always oppose any law that oppresses the public.

"We warmly welcome and are pleased to see the president's amnesty for political offenders. Really, those prisoners should not have been sentenced because there were no laws like the Code of Criminal Procedure Article 505, Subsection-b, or Section 18 in the international community. Those sections were drawn for a handful of cronies. For example, Ye Min Oo who was charged related to politics had already been detained over nine months without being sentenced. These acts should not happen during a period of democratic reform," said Magway Sayadaw U Pa Maw Kha, who welcomed political prisoners released from Yangon Prison by the presidential amnesty.

"Because of this, the three pillars of society-the political, social and economic sectors-are now broken down. Those who have the power repeatedly talk about "democracy" while continuing to act like dictators. We would like to point out to them that sections 505(b) and 18 must be struck down if they want to look into the faces of the people and call this country a 'democracy'. Unless the authorities withdraw these sections, those who have been granted amnesty may still go to prison. The unfair sentences are completely at odds with the democratic way. We want to urge the government and the parliaments to quickly restore the public's faith and become united in this purpose if they want to see good results for their country and people."

On Tuesday outside Insein Prison, some family members continued to wait for imprisoned relatives who had been convicted for other crimes, with the expectation that their relatives would be granted the amnesty.